Shojo anime is something we don’t see a lot of here in the UK. It’s more often than not simply due to the fact that Shojo manga isn’t really adapted into anime in Japan, but even when they are, it’s quite unlikely that a distributor will pick up a Shojo title to release on DVD or Blu-ray here. However, Yona of the Dawn is a fairly big title for the genre and so Funimation has brought the series to the UK for our enjoyment in two parts!
Yona of the Dawn is a series centred around a young princess to the kingdom of Kouka known as Yona. After her father is murdered on her 16th birthday by a dear childhood friend and first love, Soo-won, Yona flees with her bodyguard Hak in order to avoid also being killed by Soo-won. Betrayed by someone she loved and trusted so much, can Yona put the past behind on and move forwards to restore peace to her kingdom?
The answer to the above is “maybe”. First our protagonist must get over the death of her father, stop being such a spoiled and naive princess and find those that can help her. There is a legend in this world that the first king was a crimson dragon that came down to earth along with four others. Taking human form, the four dragons were tasked with protecting the crimson dragon no matter the cost and thus that bloodline is said to live on until this very day. The kingdom of Kouka has been split into four various tribes (Wind, Fire, and Earth are those notably mentioned), so perhaps the dragons can be found near these groups? With this in mind, Yona sets out to find the four who hold the dragon’s blood and perhaps during the journey she can work out what she truly wants.
The early episodes of the series are largely set between Yona’s escape from her home, some travelling with Hak, and flashback to her childhood spent with Soo-won and Hak. This offers solid character development for all three involved but it does mean that the plot is fairly slow and it’s only in the sixth or seventh episode that it really feels like the story begins. Searching for the dragons, however, also turns into a very slow ordeal and despite all four being clearly represented in the opening for Yona of the Dawn, by the end of these twelve episodes, the hunt is still not over.
I’m left torn between being happy that so much time is spent on developing Yona and Hak while also shining light on their childhood with Shoo-won, but also being annoyed at the pacing. Thanks to the backstory we establish fairly quickly that Hak has always been drawn to Yona and makes for a perfect bodyguard, due to being known as the Thunder Beast for his impressive fighting instincts (he’s also the former general of the Wind Tribe). Meanwhile we discover how friendly and gentle Shoo-won was; it’s really difficult to believe what he does having seen so much of him in the past. The problem is that we’re then left with Yona who is shown to love Shoo-won and doesn’t want Hak to leave her side, but beyond that she just seems like your usual spoiled princess character. Sure, there is some fight in her when she and Hak find themselves in deep trouble but overall I don’t really feel like I know her character and what she intends to do once the dragons are collected. Have I mentioned that she’s totally oblivious to the romantic feelings Hak seemingly has for her? Yeah, she’s one of those characters and it gets annoying fairly quickly.
Characters aside, the story is fairly well explained and flows nicely. There aren’t really any plot holes to speak of and everything we learn at the beginning of the series blends in seamlessly as we continue, which can’t always be said for a story as complex as what we have here. Studio Pierrot have some good animation on offer to back everything up and I’m genuinely really pleased with what I saw. I tend to find that Pierrot are very hit and miss, for example I hate the animation for Naruto Shippuden but really like what they did with Tokyo Ghoul, so I’m always worried about what I’m going to see starting a new series of theirs.
Yona of the Dawn features a fair few action scenes that are animated really well and character designs are simple but stylish and in-keeping with the time period this series is going for. Backgrounds are often a bit plain but this is a show that has a lot going on, so I’m usually preoccupied by the characters’ antics to care. Overall there isn’t much of anything to complain about here.
Where music is concerned it has been composed by Ryo Kunihiko who also handled the scores for Level E and both seasons of Tegami Bachi. The work for Yona of the Dawn isn’t anything that really stands out and ends up being rather forgettable away from the anime, but it does work nicely during the scenes it accompanies.
Voice actors, once again, don’t really stand out but Chiwa Saito (Carol in Baccano!, Homura in Madoka Magica) who plays Yona does a good job swapping between the comedic and action-filled moments. It is nice hearing more of Yusuke Kobayashi work though, who is playing Soo-won here, as he’s currently playing the role of Subaru Uchimaki in Re:Zero which the Tanuki Bridge team are extremely fond of. There is a dub included but Monica Rial doesn’t handle the role of Yona that well (especially when Yona is sulking over something) and based on that alone I’d suggest just sticking to the original Japanese audio.
This release comes to the UK thanks to Funimation and is in the form of a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, which will be released on 25th July 2016 . Part 1 contains the first 12 episodes of the series in both its original Japanese and with an English dub. There are various trailers along with clean opening and ending themes and commentary for episodes 4 and 8 included but no other extras to speak of.
Overall I’d struggle to recommend Yona of the Dawn unless you’re the type of viewer who can put up with a slow story with, so far, little pay-off. The characters are interesting enough but unlikely to hold my interest for Part 2 unless something drastically changes. Overall, I’m just not fussed about the story of this princess.
Disclaimer: For the purposes of this review, a copy of Yona Of The Dawn Part 1 was supplied to Tanuki Bridge by distributor Anime Limited.